The headlines in most of the nation’s major newspapers last week blared, “Nearly 40% say marriage is becoming obsolete.” As usual, the media helps shape our view of reality simply by the way in which the story is reported. I encourage you to read the full report, which is quite a bit more optimistic than the “sky is falling” headlines.
Does it discourage you to hear about national surveys discussing how marriage may be becoming obsolete? If you read (in the words of Paul Harvey) “the rest of the story”, you may find the reporting was somewhat sensationalized, as I did. It may also help to know that divorced and cohabiting couples were overrepresented in the survey (because researchers rightly wanted to include people in different family types), and that these individuals were more likely to believe marriage is becoming obsolete. That’s not surprising considering their life experience. If you ask a married person if marriage is obsolete, they’ll likely say, “No, marriage is important.” Someone who chooses not to marry will likely respond, “Yes, marriage is obsolete.” It’s not rocket science. Also, some who agreed that marriage is becoming obsolete said marriage is important and they are troubled by the trends.
I could even accept the headline having a negative slant, because, let’s face it, they’re trying to sell papers, and controversy sells. However, the positive sides of the study weren’t reported. For example, the Pew Report acknowledges the changing state of families then says, “In the midst of all this change, the public maintains a positive outlook about the future of the family. When asked if they feel generally optimistic or pessimistic about the institution of marriage and the family, 67% said they were optimistic, 27% said they are pessimistic, and 6% were unsure.
Lamar Tyler, co-founder of BlackandMarriedwithKids pulled other encouraging results from the study as well, including:
Americans are more upbeat about the future of marriage and family (67%) than they are about the future of our educational system (50% are optimistic), it’s economic system (46% are optimistic), or its morals and ethics (41% are optimistic). Of course, that doesn’t speak well for the latter three areas.
More couples think their marriages/relationships are better than their parents’ marriages; 51% say they have a closer relationship, 43% say it’s similar to their parents’ marriage, and 5% say their relationship is less close than their parents’ relationship.
I sometimes read or hear men or women saying they don’t want the financial strain of being in a marriage, but 35% of surveyed respondents said being financially secure comes easier for married couples while 11% say it’s easier for singles. Half say there is no difference. (Research has shown us married couples do indeed have more financial security than singles or cohabiting couples.)
Respondents also said they believed having a fulfilling sexual life, finding happiness and having social status were easier for married people, and 77% said raising a family was easier for a married person. (Again, research confirms that married people do benefit from a better sex life, more happiness and greater social status. Search this blog for lots of posts on marriage benefits.)
I’m not so optimistic as to say there is nothing to the trends saying marriage is unimportant in our society. As much as I understand and believe in the benefits of marriage for children and adults financially, emotionally, and physically, I recognize there is a large part of our culture that believes marriage is an outdated model. Some women are saying, “I am more educated than the men I’m dating, I can earn my own money, and I don’t need a man.” Well, OK, don’t get married, but you may lose out on the chance at an intimate, lifelong bond with another human being. Or the men saying, “I wouldn’t want the financial burden of a wife and children.” A man with this viewpoint should not marry, but will he be happy at the end of his life with a full bank account and an empty house?
Even though research clearly shows children are at a great disadvantage when raised without both parents, one in four children are raised by a single parent. A larger number are raised by unmarried parents. Couples with lower levels of education and lower incomes often feel they must have economic security before marriage, so they postpone marriage, along with the benefits they and their children would have received. These trends have implications for our society, not just for the individuals involved.
First there are individuals who have expectations that are unrealistically high. Those who long for an intimate connection with a partner but have never seen how this plays out, modeled by happily married couples, may think loving couples never argue or disagree. They have a “happier ever after” mentality that means marriage shouldn’t take daily effort, and it should be based on constant, loving feelings. They wonder, will I ever find the perfect mate who loves me constantly and unconditionally? They think their jobs and lives should also be perfect before the wedding day.
Others have extraordinarily low expectations of marriage, fed by personal experiences and messages from media and the greater culture that marriage is a sham and an impossible ideal. Few people are taught to have high standards and realistic expectations for marriage. Too many haven’t had a personal witness or experience with a long-lasting, supportive marriage that was positive enough to convince them of the value of the institution of marriage. They may come to believe that true love doesn’t exist, nor does loyalty.
Children of divorce, like me, can sometimes struggle with belief that a loving marriage can last, be happy and secure. Many children were forced to grow up quickly and learned to be very self-sufficient and independent. Why would they trust another person and give up their independence? They wonder, is it even possible to have a long-lasting, loving marriage? Is it worth the risk of trying?
I can certainly understand that these are important questions, and that those who haven’t resolved these struggles should probably remain single. But if you have a marriage worth modeling, what are you doing to mentor the next generation of marriages? If you value marriage, do you talk about it? Do you praise your spouse publicly? If all we hear are negative voices about marriage in our culture, the positive messages will be drowned out.
We don’t know what goes on inside other people’s marriages, so we can only speak from our own experience. My experience is that marriage has been a tremendous gift to me for the last 15 years. I have found tht it is possible to overcome human frailty and continue to love someone despite each of our faults, annoyances and life stresses. If you’re looking for tips to achieve a satisfying, long-lasting marriage, that’s what this blog is about. Thanks for reading and for sharing your experiences.
If you’re interested in reading more on this topic, one of the best columns I have seen in response to the study is this one by Stephanie Coontz at CNN.
Photo credit: @Pavel Losevsky/PhotoXpress.com